The Banquet

Shenyang Travel Blog

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A banquet in China is an extravagant and complicated affair.  The setting is always magnificent, the food is abundant and spectacular, and the length is long.  You can never do a banquet in a hurry.  Most business in China is conducted over a banquet even though the business itself may never be discussed.  Like a skillful game of strategy, it is about prestige, honour, giving face, alliance and securing favour.  In most cases, the actual food has little to do with the purpose of the banquet.  In fact, a banquet is not about the food at all.  The first strategy is in the seating arrangement.  The most honoured guest (either by age or rank) is always seated facing the door (from an old tradition, so that a guest could not be ambushed or surprised from an enemy approaching through the door), so where you are seated will instantly indicate the purpose of the banquet and your role of importance.

  Next key point is to know the art of drinking.  Drinking is a national sport and there are a plethora of drinking games which need to be mastered.  No matter how much alcohol is consumed, always keep your wits about you!  You must drink and respond to every toast with a hearty gulp or complete 'bottoms-up' (gumbay).  If a 'gumbay' is called then you must drink the whole glass and then show that your glass is empty by holding it in 2 hands and tiping the opening towards the host.  In many cases, a guest or host will appear to be drunk with loud gestures and playful behaviour.. but don't be fooled.  This is a way of giving face.  Many a westerner has gotten genuinely drunk only to be summoned to an early morning business meeting.
  The tip is to drink plenty of water, or pace yourself with lots of eating.  Making a reciprical toast to guests and the host will be warmly received.  You will be required to toast the whole table as well as individuals.  Unlike western toasts which are usually held at the beginning or end of a meal, you may have several individual toasts and gumbays throughout the banquet. 

The food will always be spectacular.  It is not uncommon to be offered 20 (or more) elaborate and expensive dishes.  The expense of the meal will also indicate prestige and honour.  You will be expected to try everything.  Never ask what it is (this would be impolite) but always appear to be impressed.  Don't pile too many things on your plate.

  The plates are small for a purpose and you should only put one thing at a time on your plate.  If you are not sure how to eat something wait until your host or another guest begins to eat and follow their lead.  Don't ask for a fork or knife.  Don't use the spoon which will be on the table.. this is for serving, not eating.  If you cant eat with chopsticks then practice and learn! 

The serving of fruit signifies that the banquet is ending.  Be prepared for a long night and always wait until the host announces the end of the banquet before leaving the table.  Pay a compliment by demonstrating just how full you are, "I am so full, I couldn't eat another thing."

Relationship is the real purpose of any banquet.

  So spend time throughout the evening to get to know your hosts and other guests outside of business matters.  Good questions to ask is how old someone is, or what year they are born in.  If someone else is born in the same year as you then you will instantly be friends.  Talk about your family and children.  In particular, sons and grandchildren will give you higher prestige.

There are many purposes for a banquet.  It may be a time for your hosts or another guest to check out your character, your acceptance of the culture, to call in a favour, or just to express how much they like you, or how successful the business will  be.  As relaxed as the night appears, don't be too relaxed.  Joke, have fun, eat too much, drink too much and enjoy, but never underestimate the importance of such a strategic event.

If the banquet goes well, don't be surprised if you are then taken for a massage (foot or body).  This is probably one of the most important signals that the banquet has gone well.

Some tips to survive a banquet.

1. Be comfortable (it's going to be a long night)

2. Drink alot of water or tea.

3.  Make sure you toast everyone.  Don't leave anyone out.

4.  Don't ask to take any leftovers home. (it would insult the host and look as if you didn't eat enough).

5.  Only eat one type food at a time.  Never piling things on your plate. 

6.  Don't eat everything on the plates.  Leave some on the plates. 

7.  Pace yourself.  Don't eat too much in the first servings.

8.  Learn to eat with chopsticks.  Don't ask for a spoon, fork or knife.

9.  Be prepared for smoke.  There will always be cigarettes offered. (of course you can decline the offer to smoke, but be aware that everyone else around you will be smoking so be prepared for red eyes and smoky-smelling clothes and hair).

10.  Accept everything that is offered.

11.  Don't be too quick to hand out business cards.  Only do so if others do this first.  A banquet is not the place to appear to do business.

12.  Take lots of photos.  It is a way to give face, but will also help you remember who was who later on.

13.  Don't schedule anything too early the next morning.

a1or57 says:
what a feast! gumbay gumbay~~
Posted on: Jan 15, 2010
Chokk says:
Great - thanks for sharing :)
Posted on: Jan 10, 2010
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